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Op-ed: New Jersey's Most Antigay Teacher Shouldn't Have Her Job

Op-ed: New Jersey's Most Antigay Teacher Shouldn't Have Her Job


Scott Lyons lived through Patricia Jannuzzi, Immaculata High School's notoriously homophobic teacher, and he doesn't want one more LGBT student to endure the same lesson.

Gays are behind an "agenda to reengineer western civ into a slow extinction."

"Homosexual behavior is a choice...sometimes violently taught."

Women in a lesbian relationship: "When will the evil stop?"

Aside from lamenting the "tone and word choice" of comments like that, leaders at Somerville, New Jersey's Immaculata High School have no problem with the content of those statements. That's the message they sent loud and clear to the students, faculty, and alumni earlier this month when Patricia Jannuzzi -- the teacher who said them -- returned to the classroom.

After a four-week forced administrative leave for constructing these attacks on LGBT people, the veteran (and my former) theology teacher now continues shaping the hearts of minds of her young students in the spirit of "truth and charity."

She'd also said a Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality would mean "a dictatorship of non fertile marriage mandated by secular materialists making our country so weak we cannot fight the dictatorship of Militant Islam...God help us!" And gays should not be protected under the Fourteenth Amendment, Jannuzzi said, because being gay is not a "permanent characteristic."

By returning her to the job with a slap on the wrist, school officials are implicitly endorsing her views. They said as much ina letter explaining their decision: "From the beginning this was a personnel and not a theological issue. We are now and always have been united in our understanding and commitment to the teachings of the Catholic Church." School officials concluded that letter by saying "there would be no further comment by all parties involved" and encouraged faculty and students to "limit any discussion of the issue." Let's brush this one under the rug and carry on like nothing happened.

The media attention to this story grew partly from an open letter I wrote to my former teacher after reading the posts to social media that are quoted above. Subsequently, the public response to my letter -- which asked Jannuzzi to reconsider her messages -- led to outrage amongst the general public as well as the Catholic community. I was trying to shed light on an issue that desperately needs to be addressed: the treatment and acceptance of LGBT people, not only within the church but by fellow citizens and human beings. There are those who vigorously stood by my former teacher's statements, while others have expressed their indignation -- and many on both sides claim to subscribe to the teachings of Catholicism.

The school's decision to have her continue sharing her philosophies, as interpreted through her Catholic faith, was disappointing and alarming to me, considering the initial response from school officials was that they found her comments "disturbing." As a gay married father, alumnus, and baptized Catholic, what has kept me up at night is wondering how the school could have come to this decision. What message does this send to the students, faculty, and Catholic community of Immaculata and what precedent does this set for Catholic schools across the country?

Antigay Catholics, like my former theology teacher and those who have stood by and defended her, have become fixated on preventing LGBT equality by using carefully selected Bible passages. The selective readings rationalize and excuse certain learned prejudices while disregarding passages that promote slavery, the raping and silencing of women, and the stoning of adulterers.

I am not speaking out to condemn the Catholic Church for the dangerous behavior of certain people who claim to speak on its behalf in the same way I would not condemn the entire Islamic religion because of the extremist groups claiming the same. Catholics and LGBT people have both had their fair share of persecution over the years, and from my own experience, I know it's unfair to categorize an entire group of people when calling out the intolerance or bad behavior of some. That being said, when Immaculata High School came to the decision to welcome back someone who repeatedly demonstrated flagrant intolerance toward an entire group of people, I have to ask if that decision is really in the best interest of the school and the student body.

It would be a long shot to think the Catholic Church would ever endorse the LGBT community by any means, but there is no excuse for a schoolteacher to attack and demean us in the way that she has. Our history has shown us time and again that whenever any one group of people is subject to persecution, we all suffer as a society. Sadly, it remains acceptable, under the guise of religion, to discriminate against and shame LGBT people in public.

Patricia_jannuzzix400d_0At right: Patricia Jannuzzi

Most of us in the LGBT community, including myself, stayed in the shadows during our teenage years because of the homophobic society in which we were raised. No longer can we allow our youth, the next generation of leaders, to live in the shadows. We have a responsibility to stand and speak up, and get out of our own shadow, because the next generation of LGBT students in public, private, and religious schools need role models and educators who don't teach hate.

There are LGBT people walking the halls of Immaculata High School every day, some being my former teacher's students. What must that feel like for them now that she's back? My disappointment in the school's decision was balanced somewhat by the response to my letter by like-minded people, both gay and straight, Christian and non-Christian, old and young. I hope that in being able to reach them, they can reach others and we can enlighten our youth to stand up against the teachings of hatred.

SCOTT LYONS is a former homecoming king and 1998 graduate of Immaculata High School. He married his husband, Jason, in October and they are the parents of a baby boy.

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